Barry Gutman, Music Wire
On his 1971 album, Hunky Dory, David Bowie sang about theAndy Warhol of the '60s/early '70s. And now, in 1996, he plays theAndy Warhol of the '80s in the new film, Basquiat, which is nowplaying in selected markets across the United States.
From left to right: Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie,Gary Oldman and Dennis Hopper in Julian Schnabel's BASQUIAT.Photo by Eric Liebowitz.
The film tells the story of young New York painter Jean-MichelBasquiat (well-played by newcomer Jeffrey Wright), a strugglingGraffiti poet and half-hearted "new-wave" rock musician who eventuallyacquired wealth and fame as a painter after coming to the attention of poet/critic Rene Ricard (sensitively portrayed by MichaelWincott). But first, Basquiat experienced a harbinger of what was tocome when he interested Warhol in some quickly knocked-off "junk art."In this, his first scene in the film, Bowie establishes hischaracterization of Warhol as an enigmatic, prissy whiner whose affectationoften made it hard for others to guage the sincerity of his passion andfriendship.
Dennis Hopper (l) and David Bowie (r) in Julian Schnabel'sBASQUIAT. Photo by Eric Liebowitz.
Bowie is far more visible in the film's second half, as Warhol councils,collaborates with and, perhaps, exploits the now-hot Basquiat. AlthoughWarhol shows concern for his colleague's deteriorating health -- Basquiateventually died of a heroin overdose -- the film raises the question ofwhether Warhol actually betrayed Basquiat by telling anewspaper reporter that he considered the younger artist his "mascot." This alleged remark -- the accuracy of which remained unresolved at thetime of Warhol's own death, which predated Basquiat's -- ended thefriendship and accelerated Basquiat's downward spiral, which was alsofueled by the latter's own, unambiguous selfishness, insensitivity andlack of loyalty to his friends and lover. The mix of subtle affectionand aloofness with which Bowie embodies Warhol underscores the mystery ofthe man's true character.
Jeffrey Wright as Jean Michel Basquiat (l) and David Bowieas Andy Warhol (r) in Julian Schnabel's BASQUIAT. Photo by EricLiebowitz.
Bowie's is not the only rock presence in the film. Courtney Love,infamous leader of Hole and widow of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, has abrief role as a sexual distraction who drives a wedge between Basquiat andhis fiancee (portrayed by the lovely Claire Forlani).
Bowie also contributes "A Small Plot of Land" to the film's soundtrack,which was overseen in part by John Cale, a former member of the Velvet Underground, which enjoyed Warhol's patronage during the '60s.Cale himself sings Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" over the film's closingcredits and on the Basquiat: Original Soundtrack (Island) album.Among other artists on the soundtrack are Public Image Ltd., Them(featuring the young Van Morrison), Toadies, PJ Harvey, Tripping Daisy, Joy Division, Tom Waits, and the Pogues.